What Is Black Skin Disease in Dogs?

Black skin disease is characterized by skin darkening and hair loss in canines. It is a progressive condition that's related to hormones. When dogs have black skin disease, they experience symmetrical hair loss on their bodies. Other names for the disease include both "alopecia X" and "adrenal sex hormone imbalance."

funny and fluffy pomeranian
Skin itchiness is sometimes a sign of black skin disease.
credit: Olezzo/iStock/Getty Images

Black Skin Disease Basics

When dogs have black skin disease, they experience patterned baldness. Their guard hairs typically drop before the rest. This hair loss exposes undercoats that are simultaneously dry and reminiscent of cotton in texture. Once the guard hairs come off, significant amounts of the rest of the hair drop in a symmetrical manner. The balding skin takes on a much darker appearance. Dogs with particularly severe cases of black skin disease sometimes lose most of their hair, with bits remaining solely on their paws and heads.

Mysterious Causes

The causes of black skin disease are mysterious to veterinarians. The disease is sometimes believed to be related to genetics, obesity, allergies and hormonal imbalances, however.

Dogs of certain breeds are particularly susceptible to black skin disease, specifically those with plush coats. These breeds include keeshonds, Pomeranians, miniature poodles, toy poodles, American Eskimos, Siberian huskies, malamutes, Norwegian elkhounds, Samoyeds and chow chows. Black skin disease is prevalent in Nordic breed dogs. Note that while some types of dogs are especially vulnerable to this condition, it's been observed in all canine breeds.

Age and Gender

Black skin disease typically shows up in dogs who are 1 to 3 years old. Despite that, the disorder occasionally appears in both younger and older dogs. Puppies who are as young as 9 months in age have experienced the disease, as have older adult dogs of 11 years old. Black skin disease can appear in all canines regardless of age group.

Black skin disease exists in both male and female canines. Although the condition is particularly common in unfixed males, fixed dogs of both sexes can develop it.

Common Symptoms

If you're worried that your pooch might have black skin disease, look for symptoms such as symmetrical hair loss, slow coat color loss and hyperpigmentation. When affected dogs have skin darkening, it can be patchy or more extensive. Some dogs might develop tiny black skin spots. Other dogs, might develop pure black or deep gray skin. Canines with black skin disease occasionally experience temporary or incomplete hair regrowth, too.

If your pet has hair loss alongside symptoms such as depression or shifts in drinking or eating habits, for example, the loss might be related to another overarching medical ailment. If you detect symptoms of systemic illness in your pet, he might have an endocrine disorder.

Veterinary Assessment

If you're worried that your dog might have black skin disease, take him to your veterinarian for a checkup. Diagnosing this condition is complicated for veterinarians. This is because there aren't any medical tests that are capable of diagnosing it with certainty. Since black skin disease has symptoms similar to those of other ailments such as Cushing's disease and hypothyroidism, veterinarians often attempt to diagnose it by eliminating other potential causal factors. They frequently perform skin biopsies and send them for assessment to pathology laboratories. Your vet also may conduct a urinalysis, blood panel, adrenal hormone and thyroid test on your dog.

Black skin disease is a cosmetic ailment. As a result, it isn't believed to have any negative consequences on canine health or cause pain. Since the disease brings on hair loss, however, it can boost your dog's risks of getting a sunburn. If you're taking your dog to the beach, put a T-shirt on him to avoid sunburn.

If your veterinarian determines that your dog has black skin disease, potential treatment plans include neutering, spaying, hormone therapies and oral melatonin nutritional supplements. Hormone therapies can be beneficial for dogs who are believed to have black skin disease as a result of hormonal imbalances.